The Ribbon Mic Transformer Challenge!

Here’s a little bit of fun for all you mic builder and engineer types. I put two different transformers onto the same ribbon motor for a very casual test. One of these transformers is found in the typical Chinese ribbon mic. The other is a US- made, high-performance custom wound transformer from Les Watts. (Les tells me that he may have more of these available soon.) I hooked each up and recorded a few lines lines of voice and some scratches with my fiddle.

The fiddle playing sucks… really, I’m not being modest here… because I just got it back from the shop, it has brand-new strings, and a brand-new bow as well that doesn’t have enough rosin on it yet, so the strings slide and scratch all over the place. It also sucks because I can’t really play fiddle.

You’ll notice a good bit of hum with these samples because the transformer is dangling in the air & has no shielding. When I did my final installation, most of that noise went away.  It’s pretty impossible to do an actual evaluation with all this noise present, and perhaps in the future I’ll do some better samples with shielding, etc. But this was all I had time for… at least for now. There are only two transformers in this test… if someone has a pal at Cinemag, Lundhal, or Samar, get them to send me a transformer and I’ll make it a larger comparison. I’ll probably order an Edcor in a few weeks, and perhaps then I’ll do some better samples.

These are really casual samples, so they’re MP3 files recorded at 44.1kHz, 320kbps files using an M-Audio Duo preamp and a Sony PCM-10 recorder. And remember that it isn’t really a fair test… there are lots of variables that might make one transformer work better than another with any given ribbon motor. I just wanted to see if I could hear the differences.

So here are the samples… transformer “B” first:

XfmrBedit

And now transformer “A:”

XfmrAedit

Which transformer do you prefer? Can you guess which one is the cheapy and which is the better? I certainly have my favorite, but it might be because I know which one is supposed to sound better. (This kind of bias is well documented, and it’s surprisingly difficult to overcome!)

I’ll show you the man behind the curtain here in about a week.

UPDATE: Time to spill the beans… transformer A was the better grade unit, and transformer B was the less expensive garden variety type. I’ll try to put together a better transformer review in the future using more transformers and a better (less noisy) samples. Thanks for playing our game, and here are some lovely parting gifts for you. Sorry, our production assistants appear to have eaten those.

2 responses to “The Ribbon Mic Transformer Challenge!

  1. I like B better. In A, it sounds somewhat like the transformer was being saturated or something weird was happening… It was somewhat like you moved into a small closet to record the A track. It’s hard to explain the sound…

  2. I realize this is pretty old, but just diving into ribbon mic construction and ran across this. Transformer A sounds a LOT better in my studio monitors. I’d be interested to know the specs on that transformer if possible.

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